Runner follows the adolescent Charlie as he is thrust into the role of “man of the house” after his father’s death. Charlie remarks in his narration that when the undertakers took his father’s body away, they took Charlie’s childhood with them. Charlie’s many responsibilities force him to grow up quickly, but although Charlie learns how to act like an adult, he is ultimately still a child in the process of maturing.
Charlie discusses his conflict between childhood and maturity early in the book. Though he might dress in knickerbockers like other boys his age, as soon as he leaves school, he must step into “the long pants of adulthood.” This notion of the schoolyard experience as a symbol for childhood continues as Charlie drops out of school to provide for his family, willfully leaving childhood behind to join his mother Mrs. Feehan as an adult responsible for their household. His work for Squizzy Taylor also forces him to grow up quickly, as it exposes him to liquor, gambling, and the dangerous criminal underbelly of Melbourne. Though Charlie quits his job with Squizzy, he does not return to school at the end of the story. He has grown used to the expectations of adulthood, and he is in the process of growing up to be comfortable with those expectations. That process isn’t a strictly linear one, though: when Charlie returns from the Ballarat Mile, he “fell into his mother’s arms,” which signifies that Charlie accepts he has not grown up too much to stop depending on his mother. His circumstances have demanded maturity, but when the pressure of supporting his family is lifted, Charlie is able to embrace aspects of childhood again, like his mother’s care, and resume maturing at his own pace.
Growing Up ThemeTracker
Growing Up Quotes in Runner
True, it was the warmth I sought each night I headed out. It was the prickle of skin and the sweat on my brow. But soon there was something more. The sleazy streets seduced me, and, like a moth to the flame, I gladly surrendered.
Normally I would have felt uneasy, limping through the city streets in the daylight hours. Without an adult escort, I was fair game to be collared by a truant officer. But today, I felt different. Today, although my victory had not been entirely aboveboard, I had joined the ranks of the gainfully employed. I was one of them.
That night in my sleep, I dreamt of a house with pink walls […].All three of us were there, Ma, Jack, and me, sitting in front of a crackling fire. Beside the hearth, stacked neatly in rows, was a pile of wood stacked so high it reached the top of the mantelpiece. We sat smiling, faces aglow, dunking bits of bread into steaming soup […].
Next morning, it was the cold that woke me early. When I opened my eyes, the pink walls in my dream had turned a moldy gray and black.
It was quick, my father’s death […]. As soon as he took his last breath, Ma and I were forced to think of the future. Even in death, the poor were denied the luxury of grieving. There just wasn’t time […]. [W]hen the undertakes came to wheel my father’s lifeless body out to the hearse, it was as if they took my childhood with them.
I was proud of my legs. Before the running, they’d been nothing more than two slender sticks […]. But now with the miles in them, they were steely and strong. They were runner’s legs––legs that would one day carry me out of the slums for good.
I didn’t want what other people wanted. I didn’t want to be like Nostrils, sticking labels on tins of jam at Rosella’s, or like my father, who’d busted his gut down on the wharf for years. I wanted something more than that. I wanted a piece of the action. It didn’t have to be a huge helping, just a slice of it.
Enough to give Ma and Jack a better life.
Reluctantly she swung my way, and it was then that I saw her battered face. I was shocked […]. I could not believe that the woman standing before me was the same one who’d brought me into this world––the one who’d cared for me all these years.
True, I had been wearing my father’s boots for some months now. Wearing them was easy […]. Any mug who knew the art of tying laces could do that. But filling them, now that was a different story altogether.
In a person’s life, there are some moments that define who you are––miniscule moments where you’re called upon to act, faster than a flip of a coin.
Heads or tails.
Yes or no.
Go or stay.
Perhaps my mind was already made up, but as I turned and saw them on top of him, Nostrils raised his head and screamed. “Run, Charlie! Run!”
“Did ya ‘appen to know, Charlie,” [Ma] said, pouring the tea, “that me and Alice ‘ave somethin’ in common? […] It just so ‘appens that Alice loves to dance.”
Right then, the strangest thing happened. A vision of my father appeared in the living room as clear as Ma was sitting in the chair opposite […]. He raised his eyebrows, then smiled.
“Giddyup, Charlie.” He winked.
Then he was gone.
Full of rage, I dropped by eyes to the ground and saw my shiny black boots. Right then, something clicked inside my head. Everything became clear. Silently I left the office and made my way to the laundry. After changing into my father’s old boots, I strode back down the hall. I […] placed the boots on the table, right under Squizzy’s nose.
As I sat against the bed, the stash reminded me of the play money my father used to make me, and how I’d pile it into neat rows, always asking for more […]. But this was no longer a game, and I was no longer a boy.
I went back to that first time I’d ventured out––that time I plotted a course of four main streets to rid myself of the cold, dull ache in my bones. Tomorrow, however, I’d be running for something more. I’d be running for my father, for Ma, for Jack, for Alice, for Nostrils, and for Mr. Redmond. Tomorrow I’d be running the race of my life, and the stakes were high.
As I turned the knob, Ma appeared behind me.
“Where are ya goin’, Charlie?” she asked.
“I’m goin’ runnin’, Ma.”
“Runnin’? Where to?”
I dropped my eyes to my father’s boots, then looked up and smiled.
“Who knows, Ma. Who knows.”